Written on May 11, 2009
Today I am showing what I consider to be three stunningly beautiful Indian textiles, specifically an indigo dyed cotton Naga shawl (right) and two intensely stitched kanthas to its left. Surrounding these three textiles which are hanging together on the wall are some Japanese country textiles from the late nineteenth century. I’ll talk a bit about the Naga shawl first.
The beautifully colored, indigo dyed cotton shawl was woven in Nagaland a hill state in far north eastern India which was created in 1961, and home to the Nagas, who can be called a “tribal” people who belong to an Indo-Mongoloid family. Nagaland is in a remote part of India as it borders the distant states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur: Nagas also live in Burma, which borders these Indian states.
The Nagas are a group of 14 major tribes, each with their own dialect, customs, beliefs and creation myths–and as their land is physically quite remote from the country of India, the people of Nagaland are a racial group distinct from the inhabitants of India. One of the most famous cultural features of the Naga was their practice of head hunting, a tradition which has been put to an end by the government of India and by a gradual conversion of the Nagas to Christianity.
This shawl is a soft, deep indigo color which has bears a rich patina from wear, and it is comprised of three woven strips–each about 14″ wide–which are hand stitched together. Along the warp throughout the piece is a very subtle striping of alternating pale blue and bone colored “pin stripes.” The two ends are finished by tied, twisted and knotted fringe. Look carefully at the photos and notice the small flecks of color that are inserted at the seams–and also note the beautifully tight mendings.
For more on the Nagas, why don’t you visit the site of Pablo Bartholomew whose photos and stories on the Naga are compelling and beautiful.
I’ve shown some wonderful kanthas from West Bengal and Bangladesh on this blog before–if you go to the “tag cloud” to the right of this column and click on the word “kantha” you’ll see some previous posts on kantha, with some fascinating quotes on this folk tradition by the famed Indologist, Stella Kramrisch. Also, if you notice the “…of interest” blogroll above the tag cloud, you’ll see a link to the kanthas in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum–these kantas were collected by Stella Kramrisch and she gave them to the museum. They are a stunning collection, and all acquired in the early part of last century. My belief is that the two kantas shown below date to the early 20th century or perhaps slightly before.
Spend some time studying the minute stitching and intensely complex patterns of these two exquisite kanthas. These are among the favorites in my collection.